December 16, 2002

Shifting Sands

Category: Research — Biella @ 12:27 am

I asked Alex a fellow grad student at the U of C anthropology department what he thinks about how much an academic should blog of her own work. His blogged answer (I am still waiting for my more personal answer) is an insightful musing about the general form of the blog genre, examining its strengths and weaknesses as a medium of communication and writing. He notes:

They create informal networks and conversations, but are more structured not informal conversation. You can blog a conference, but all the Navy Seal shit (intellectually speaking of course)goes down at the bar, where alcohol (martinis, preferably) and camaraderie galvanize your brains and get the intellectual juices flowing. Blogs allow the initial presentation of thoughts and ideas long and structured enough to put in a book, but they are not books, nor is their formal structure of the sort in which one develops into a book without a lot of work. Blogs stand in between, like the custard before it sets: too thick to truly be appropriate to the ebb and flow of conversation, too thin to take on the hard solidity of a book.

So where does this in-betweenness give us academics that let’s say a book or essay doesn’t? His answer is that they act as a fertile productive breeding ground for what then will possibly become more fleshed out future work:

“Blogs are all topic sentences and no supporting evidence, god bless ‘em. This flare-up-and-fade-away aspect of them is what makes them so great and inspires such thought. This, in fact, is my answer to the question: How best to blog my academic career? The blog is a place to put all your unsubstantiated hunches, since it’s too compact a format to allow for substantialization anyway. A blog is a place for thoughts that are one blog long [clever indeed].

But what else has this sort of state of in-betweenness allowed or caused in a more general sense? I have thought a lot about the “the blog” as a genre and although I loathe the name, I love blogging and feel a need to explain this new found passion, which so many share. I tend to obsess over two particular aspects of the blog: 1) How has the blog shifted the terrain of epistemology? 2) How does the blog shift the boundary between public and private persona?

December 13, 2002

Mooning as Free Speech?

Category: Humor,Politics — Biella @ 9:06 pm

I decided to start reading the Guyana Chronicle again to keep up with a part of the world that is rarely covered in the mainstream or independent media. I did not think that I would read about such a burning free speech/civil rights case going on in Australia in the Guyana Chronicle.

But next door to Australia, in New Zealand, there is a slightly more pressing (but ever more slight) legal situation. They are thinking of passing a DMCA-like law but are first accepting comments, including international ones. Here is what you can do:

New Zealand’s incumbent government prides itself on being
highly consultative, so you’ll have the ability to tip the
scales in favour of the consumer and the private citizen.
The more New Zealand can be swayed to a less oppressive
position, the more force there’ll be towards efforts to
repeal/mitigate the DMCA in the USA, because NZ can then be
cited as a positive example.. So it’s actually in *your*
interest, in the USA and other countries, to make a

Submissions must be received before Friday, February 21,
2003. Please don’t delay unduly – it’s easy to blink twice
and discover that the date has already passed.

Snail Mail is probably best, sent to the following address: Digital Technology and the Copyright Act 1994
Attention: Victoria Pearson
Regulatory and Competition Policy Branch
Ministry of Economic Development
PO Box 1473

Email submissions are also accepted -


December 12, 2002

Anthropology, revealed, or how to hack culture

Category: Anthropology,Research — Biella @ 1:55 am

Today felt like a very “anthropological day” for me. I purposively waited till I was comfortable with the interviewing process before interviewing some of the more visible and well known players in the hacker cultural and political world. So nearly after 20 months of research, and 50 in person interviews, I finally interviewed John Gillmore. After 3 hours we got through like half of the things I wanted to talk about so I will have to go back for more. It was a great interview reminding me of why I like being an anthropologist too . And I “feel” so much more like an anthropologist (that is I kinda know what I am doing) than when I started although not entirely so. Along with my project, this research is *very much* also a training period of learning how to be an anthropologist. I have and will make mistakes that will hopefully be reflective feedback tools to improve my own practice of anthropology if I do indeed continue to be an anthropologist (after today’s interview, I had this strong urge to be a biographer inspired by John Gillmore’s tales as a software developer, passionate learner, political provocateur, and all all round interesting guy). But after 10 minutes of serious, deep thought, I was like: “hell no, not 6 years into my degree and 3 years into this project.” But maybe later…

I get asked a lot what anthropology is or what the differences are between a sociologist and anthropologist. I cringe at those questions because I would like to answer with ease and total clarity but feel like I usually fail. But my interest in answering this question, well, was sparked after I received an email that claimed that morality could only studied from a philosophical perspective, which was written by a quantitative sociologist. It really irked me not only because I think it is a ridiculous assertion but it was a blow to my entire project as I was putting ethics under anthropological not philosophical scrutiny. Anger motivates. So here I will attempt at a fist stab at explaining in “lay terms” what composes the craft of anthropology in the hopes of brining some sense to what it is we do.

To attempt this, I am going to at times dip into my own autobiographical experiences as well as borrow some concepts and metaphors from the world of software hacking, but a first a caveat especially about the later. My use of metaphorical comparisons are meant to more richly make a point about something (in this case anthropology) not to equate the two. That is it is a means for an ends not an end in itself. I will also be probably chastised by my anthropological colleagues for “using native categories” as modes of explanation but luckily none but 2 read my blog because they are for the most part so technophobic that it even perturbs me. But hey, I think this is a great exercise. Instead of using anthropological concepts and categories to try to understand hacker culture (which is what I will do with my dissertation anyway), why not use hacker categories to explain anthropology?

So, here it is: Anthropologists essentially “reverse engineer” culture. We don’t just understand and convey surface manifestations of culture (which might be what you find in a National Geographic piece), but we like to consider and examine the underlying mechanisms that produce and reproduce social worlds, that is the source code of culture. We are just as interested in how “culture” is made by the aggregate of social actors who act through social institutions, undertake material practices, and participate in a wide range of mundane and ritual activities (all the while, being attentive to that the fact that culture is shaped by larger socio-historical forces). Sounds hard, doesn’t it? But hey who ever said that reverse engineering was ever easy?
For the rest of this essay, go here This is admittedly the longest thing I have ever written for my blog so only the brave of heart, enter.

December 10, 2002


Category: Personal — Biella @ 11:35 pm

Today was a pretty interesting day filled with a mixed bag of treats one of which was not this “factoid” on America pertaining to a “Harris Poll” on the American “Wish List.” American polled desire the following:

1. Health
2. Winning the Lottery
3. World Peace

I am glad to see that Americans have their priorities straight as, really, winning the lottery is certainly so much more important and satisfying than frikken world peace.

Anyway. I decided to go back to Bikram yoga today after nearly a 7 month hiatus and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the heat (around 120 Fahrenheit) that is the Bikram studio. It is not surely for everyone but I can’t help love feeling really hot in a city that is never really all that warm.

Later in the night, I went to the EFF holiday party. It was great to see all these folks that I see at geek events but all under the same roof! And speaking of things geeky, we held a key signing and I was like the honorary woman there. As usual, I was struck at the joy and happiness that key signing induces amongst geeks. Now Mr Harris or who ever runs these polls needs to undertake a wish list pole amongst hackers… Wonder where “weekly key signing events” would fall, 1, 2 or 3?

December 8, 2002

I will bowl for anchovies

Category: Personal — Biella @ 11:46 pm

Does anyone else like straight-up anchovies? They do go best dressed on a pizza with a light layer of cheese but since I don’t do pizza anymore, I just eat anchovies. They give me a lot of happiness as do a number of other foods like fried plantains (my absolute favorite), coconut milk (makes anything taste better) and chocolate (pure heaven)

I made a really yummy broccoli, spinach, coconut soup this weekend and I recommend it to anyone who needs some color or coconut in their lives. It is easy to make: steam the broccoli and spinach till soft, then blend with coconut milk and then add some curry paste and salt to taste. I am sure most will prefer that to anchovies…

Aside from eating a lot of coconut stuff and I admit some “straight-up anchovies”, I saw many movies this weekend. Two of the three movies were on bowling. OK, not exactly on bowling per se but the act of bowling was in both movies, one movie which was “happy”, the other “not so happy.” Actually both go quite well together as well. The first was one of my all time favorites: The Big Lebowsi featuring the life and especially ethos of “the dude” while the second one was slightly less on the jovial, uplifting side: Bowling for Columbine.

Both are amazing films, obviously pretty different in their message although both really punch you quite hard, one making you laugh, the other leaving you more on the nauseous side. While the Big Lebowsi is about the “dude” and his particularly laid back and open lifestyle, Bowling for Columbine is about the “culture of fear” that is strangling America and helps to explain the general atmosphere of societal mistrust and strong American inclination to resort to violence. Moore did a brilliant job at unearthing the ethos of fear and mistrust that is now becoming the underlying warp and woof of America society, an unspoken cultural grid that is being perpetuated especially by and through the media. The amazing thing is that this culture of fear is not simply the “fear of violence and others” but spans into so many other parts of the American psyche like fear instilled by a legal system where the threat of a lawsuit is at every corner or the fear of that one cannot provide for one’s family as things like healthcare and education are so damn expensive and are really up to the individual to provide for. It runs so much deeper than even depicted in the movie.

Anyway, there is a lot more that can be said about the “fear and loathing” in America but it is best to end with “the dude” as he represents the like the total antithesis to a person imprisoned by the shackles of mistrust. We can all benefit from some chilling out to keep free from those shackles:

“Fortunately, I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug, uh, regimen to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber.” Wise words, dude.

December 6, 2002

JFK was a sick, MotherF*****

Category: Health — Biella @ 11:57 am

John F Kennedy was one sick motherf*cker. No, literally, he spent his whole life ill, disease brewing at the back burner or front burner of his existence. He suffered from a range of illnesses from the auto-immune, to chronic pain, to infections. As a young kid he suffered terribly from colitis which got him started on an relentless course of steroids which probably contributed to a whole cascade of other illnesses and problems from Addison’s disease (an adrenal disorder), excruciating back pain and bone loss (that led to two surgeries), insomnia, and countless bladder and upper respiratory tract infections. He took an average of 10 medications per day, his whole life micro-managed to deal with illness and keep this ordeal from the country. I read about this article in last month’s The Atlantic Monthly and if you can get your hands on the article, it is worth the read. It is astounding that he did not suffer just from “a chronic illness” but really the genre of “chronic illness.” The medical management of his illnesses shows just how the medical establishment of his time was poorly equipped to deal with chronic illness and well, it does not seem like they have made many leaps and bounds since the 1960s either.

Which is why so many patients now seek alternative therapies and rarely tell their doctors about such “transgressive excursions” as they would in a word not-approve. JFK lived in a time when alternative therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, and nutritional therapies were less visible and socially acceptable. It made me wonder whether if he lived in this era, if he would indeed choose another path from that of carrying a small doggie bag of pills to survive the internal demons of his pain and illness. Today, I was thinking just about that, what leads a person to make a gestalt switch from one way of thinking or doing to another one, especially when it comes to health and healing. And my acupuncturist helped to answer that question when she told me about a patient who was quite skeptical of acupuncture, but was *so desperate* with her pain she was willing to try anything , even something that she did not believe in, at ALL. It is funny to think that desperation can be the condition of possibility for some forms of gestalt switches but so the case.

So, I want someone who is really desperate in the department of love, to make that faith-based switch and try this love potion and let me know, does it work? :-)

December 5, 2002

Oven Fries vs. Deep Fries

Category: Humor — Biella @ 9:07 am

So, you know, there are times when scientific studies can yield some really interesting information. This is not
of them:

Oven Fries Beat Deep Fried Chips for Health, Safety
Despite high-profile government campaigns, chip pan fires continue to be the single largest cause of casualties in house fires,” they write. “Changing cooking behavior in low income households may be feasible if the alternatives provide the same quality and convenience as home fried food at an acceptable price.”

They conclude that a decrease in the numbers who choose to deep-fry, alongside other fire-prevention methods, “may have important repercussions for public health in the UK.”

Now they will need a study for a counter argument:
Deep Fried Chips Beat Oven Fries for Psychological Well Being and Gastro-Satisfaction

December 4, 2002

Taxi Drivers of the World, UNITE!

Category: Politics — Biella @ 12:00 am

The Finnish Supreme Court ruled that taxi driver’s have to pay royalties for backseat music. Talk about policing every last iota of social space. The taxi???

This is just plain wrong and, surprising, as I thought it would happen first here in the US and not a place like Finland. I mean, the first thing I thought is: “wow do they even have taxi’s there?”‘

It makes me think of the “Mambo Taxi” guy in one of my all time favorite movies Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown . If this law was applied in Spain, the mambo taxista would no longer be just one kick ass taxi driver and part-time amateur therapist, but a total copyright infringer/pirate (yarrr!) as he plays all this Mambo music and has all this cool Mambo paraphernalia in his taxi. Aldomovar whose specialty is the comic, the absurd, the atrocious, and the unthinkable, should consider doing a work on the “ExtreMe CuLture” of legally policing that seems to be creeping up everywhere.

But hey, maybe the powers that be should try to pass this law in the True and of the Taxi, NYC, because maybe the taxi drivers there would like all revolt and wage war. Now wouldn’t that be ironic if the fight against IP came not from scientists, artists, or hackers but taxi drivers? Taxi Drivers of the World, UNITE!

December 3, 2002

My all time favorite hacker shirt

Category: Other — Biella @ 12:03 am

So, some have seen my collection of hacker shirts. Here is my all time favorite shirt.Speaking of hackers, I have set up a site to add bibliographic references on hackers. Have any?
Add them here: here.